Whether the watercolour painting I’ve done is on an Ampersand panel (Aquabord, Encausticbord, etc) or a homemade wooden panel (likely prepared with a watercolour ground), I usually finish the piece in the same way. I get a few questions about how I do this, so here I will go into some detail about finishing.
Fixing and Varnishing
I’ve heard other artists talk about problems with some spray varnishes spraying blobs of varnish onto their painting. I’ve not yet had that problem (yes, I did say YET), but it’s a good idea to do a test of the spray away from the painting each time you use it and to spray the can upside down for a few seconds after use, to clear the nozzle. I also recommend covering the painting while it dries, to avoid any dust, grit or bugs attaching themselves. I use a clean, empty plastic storage box, turned upside down over the painting.
When the varnish is completely dry, usually a few days, I apply Dorland’s Wax Medium on the surface. This isn’t essential, but I really like the extra “finished” look it gives, as well as the additional protection. The Dorland’s Wax is a compound of waxes and resins, with various uses across several mediums, but in this case acts as a sealing and protective topcoat.
It’s a good idea to use the upside-down plastic box for protection again. The waxiness does dry completely, giving a hard finish (due to the resin component). I love the very slight satin sheen the wax gives, though it is possible to gently buff it once it’s dry to achieve a more glossy finish.
I won’t lie; waxing paintings has quickly become one of my most favourite process steps. It’s just such an incredibly soothing process and I can’t really explain why!
Attaching to a Cradle
The Ampersand panels can be bought as standard 3mm depth, or are also available already attached to a wooden cradle, giving the overall panel a 22mm edge (Ampersand on Jackson's Art). I personally prefer painting with the panel flat on the table, so I tend to attach a wooden cradle when the piece is finished. You can see my method for this in my previous blog post. I then finish the cradle edge with wood varnish, stain, or solid colour, depending on what I think would best suit the painting.
Frame... or not?
The beauty of watercolour on panel is that it doesn’t need to be framed behind glass. The varnish and wax finish means that it is protected enough that the colours and texture can be appreciated without glass in the way. A painting with a beautifully finished, deep cradle edge can be hung as it is, in a similar way to an oil or acrylic painting on canvas. Another display option would be framing without glass, such as a float frame. “Float” basically means that there is a gap between the painting and frame, which gives the impression of it ‘floating’. This offers more protection to the edges, particularly any time the painting is in transit, but it really more a case of preference than anything.
If you would like to be supportive of my endeavours as an artist, so that I am able to continue with these explorations of materials and surfaces, please consider purchasing your art materials through the links below. It won't cost you anything more, but I get a small commission.
Click on either of the link images below; Jackson's are UK based, Blick are US.
I am Emily Wilson, a watercolour portrait artist, working in the UK. I have a particular interest in exploring alternative painting surfaces to paper.